Wednesday, November 7, 2007

I Don't Know How You Know

Start of Story, Gettin' to Food

I friggin' love my cast iron skillet. It is my favorite pot/pan/other. Mom & S gave it to me for Christmas 2 years ago. I was finally settled in Charly-West after the campaign in 2004, the couch surfing after the campaign in 2004, and the move in May of 2005. And they were bemused by my interest in cooking. I think Mom is still bemused. Every once in a while I think she wishes I'd talk about something else once in a while.

That cast iron skillet that I love...has been at WC's house since October 11. I haven't been able to cornbread it, fry it, frittata it, or potatoes o'brien it in the highest quality pan for close to a month.

Why, intrepid foodie-reader, do you ask?

Well, WC played ball (I don't know how you know). His team was pretty good back in the day. The boys were all coming in to town for the 20th reunion. The school was doing a big tribute to their 1987 NAIA national championship runner-up team.

He wanted me to cook some southern goodness for the boys. Because WC is real big, and a great friend, I of course agreed. Here's what I needed to make:
  1. Cornbread
  2. Macaroni and Cheese
  3. Collard Greens
  4. Black-Eyed Peas

Now he needed this cooked on a Thursday night. Two problems, one related to Thursdays, one specific to this Thursday. Thursday is dart league, so I had to throw. Fortunately, the match was in SC, so it was close to WC's place. I could cook and get it ready for the boys at about 7:30, then come back after the dart match.

There was also a HUGE work event on Saturday, and I wasn't sure I'd be cleared out enough at the office with prep by Thursday. Turned out okay. Didn't know that until Wednesday.

Since I was making a lot of food, and would be gone when it needed to be 'ate, I did the black-eyed peas and the collard greens the night before. They'd warm up just fine.

This is the part of the blog where I tell you that WC called his mother when he tasted my collard greens.

It Is What It Is

So I roll up to WC's at 5:30 on Thursday with my pre-cooked peas and greens, food for the mac 'n cheese and the cornbread, and my cast iron skillet.

I got the cornbread knocked out first. There was a bit of a hitch when I realized Big-Game Wayne was not Big-Game in possession of any measuring cups. No worries. After thinking "what to use" for a second, I just poured into my hand and eyeballed it. I've made that stuff enough now.

So they're in the oven and I start on the mac 'n cheese. Perfect (except for the Coleman's Mustard container opening in transit. I saved most of it, but damn, that's not cheap mustard.

On to the mac. It's standard, roux, milk, cheeses, pour over mac, add more cheese on top, bake at 375. I use tasty cheeses like Gruyere and add crazy stuff like mustard powder and nutmeg (not a lot, it's not mac 'n cheese strudel).

I put the mac in the oven and bolted down to SC for darts. 12 games later, I was back up the hill ready to see this reunion that put the dreamy 'all my boyz are comin' back' look in WC's eyes for two months.

It Was Pretty, and I Looked Pretty Doin' It

Looooooooooooooong story a bit longer, I came back from throwing darts to a house full of large (let me remind you these are all former star athletes) black men in eerily pasty-white Charleston up on the hill. Before you rant, rave, and get crazy, stop. I'm observing, not insinuating. The only thing that didn't fit was this crazy cook's goofy trepidation walking into the house. Turns out we had plenty to talk about.

WC introduced me to several of the guys and they were a bit curious as to why I was there. Then he said "That's my chef." Whole place changed. I spent the next 45 minutes talking with Z, who's now a chef (the real kind) in Bal'mer (so I'll have to catch back up with him again) and hearing all the boys tell stories about traveling to this game, and what prank got played on that guy, and who was coaching what league these days. Even Ice was complimentary, and I think his rivalry with WC started when I was, oh, seven years old.

Good times for sure. Those cats headed down to the bar after the house. I headed home and passed out. Feeding 25 people with split cook times and your friend's reputation on the line, that's a workout.

End of Story, Start of Food

Jalapeno Bacon Cheddar Cornbread

  • 1 1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1 cup AP flour
  • 1 T baking powder
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1 T sugar (not required, I don't usually add)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup + 1/4 cup milk
  • 4 slices bacon
  • 1 jalapeno pepper
  • 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Mix dry ingredients in bowl.
  3. Mix wet ingredients in large measuring cup.
  4. Finely dice jalapeno (remove some/all seeds for less heat).
  5. Cook bacon in cast iron skillet. Remove, cool, and chop into small pieces, reserve 2T grease in pan with heat on low to keep grease liquid.
  6. Add wet ingredients to dry. Add cheese, diced jalapeno, and chopped bacon.
  7. Stir until just mixed, adding extra 1/4 cup of milk if needed.
  8. Pour batter into skillet and place in oven for 25 minutes.
  9. Cornbread is done when knife inserted into bread comes out clean.

Twisted Black-Eyed Peas

  • 1 lb dried black-eyed peas
  • 2 smoked ham hocks
  • 2 sweet onions (Vidalia, Wala-Wala, etc.)
  • 1 T dried thyme
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Low-sodium chicken broth (to cover, usually 2 boxes)
  1. Rinse and sort peas and remove any stones. No need to pre-soak.
  2. Dice onions and saute for 5 minutes in olive oil. Add salt to sweat.
  3. After onions are translucent, add ham hocks and thyme. Stir through and continue to saute for 3 minutes.
  4. Add peas to pan and cover with broth.
  5. Reduce heat to low and cook covered for 1 hour and 45 minutes at a low simmer.
  6. Remove ham hocks from pot, remove meat from bones, shred, return to pot.
  7. Re-season with salt if needed, season with pepper.

Collard Greens

  • 3 large bunches collard greens.
  • Everything from the Black-Eyed Pea recipe, same amounts.
  1. Rinse greens well (I soak and drain in the sink several time).
  2. Remove the center stalk from each leaf (yes it will take that long), and then chiffonade the leaves. I love that I get to use that technique word for this recipe. You take the leaves and stack them, then roll them up like a cigar, then slice across the cigar so you get shredded greens.
  3. Dice onions and saute for 5 minutes in olive oil. Add salt to sweat.
  4. After onions are translucent, add ham hocks and thyme. Stir through and continue to saute for 3 minutes.
  5. Add greens to pan and add with broth. It might not cover right off the bat. Don't worry, it will. Check the pot for the first 10 minutes or so and push the greens down as they start to wilt. You may need to add some extra broth.
  6. Reduce heat to low and cook covered for 1 hour and 45 minutes at a low simmer.
  7. Remove ham hocks from pot, remove meat from bones, shred, return to pot.
  8. Re-season with salt if needed, season with pepper.

Macaroni & Cheese

  • 1 lb large elbow macaroni
  • 1 lb shredded mild cheddar
  • 1 lb shredded Gruyere
  • 1 lb shredded Parmesan
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 6 T unsalted butter
  • 6 T AP flour
  • 1 T dry mustard powder
  • 1 t ground nutmeg
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cook noodles according to package, removing from heat just before they're al dente.
  3. Add butter to sauce pan over medium heat and melt, stir in flour.
  4. Add mustard and nutmeg and stir quickly.
  5. Add milk and stir constantly until the mixture begins to thicken.
  6. Add 2/3 cheddar, all the Gruyere, and 1/2 the Parmesan in batches until it's all melted in.
  7. Eyeball it, you may want more milk the thin it out. Remember, more liquid will be absorbed by the macaroni in the oven.
  8. Pour the sauce over the noodles in a 9x13 baking dish (I use Pyrex). Mix it well.
  9. Spread remaining cheddar and Parmesan over the top of the casserole and put in the oven for 30-45 minutes. I know that's a wide range. But here's my tip on this...Open the oven and look. When the mac is bubbly and the cheese is how you want it on top, it's done.


Serafina said...

You have been without your cast iron skillet for almost a month!?! How depressing. I can't live without mine.

mamachezz said...

I love to chiffonade!!!

redneck muppet said...

Yeah, WC said he'd drop it off at M's before the Iron Chef, but he forgot, and was leaving town to play ball for $. And M had other cast iron skillets if I had needed it. And I'd cooked with them before so I sorta knew them even if they weren't 'mine' and all that. And I can't blame him, since he was supposed to be a judge so he knew what he was missing out on. But still, I NEED that pan.

I'm The Chez said...

I'm the Chez and You're the Macaroni! I love yours! It's like crack!

By the way, you AND my mom are both dorks to the infinite power.